Hiep Bui had a reputation for being a hard worker at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, Alta. And that takes some doing in a plant known for its cold, punishing working conditions.

Bui worked at the plant for more than 20 years, and her co-worker Jane Mah says her friend never wanted to miss a single day.

“I think she was the only employee in Cargill who had to be pushed to go for her vacation,” Jane says.

Died on April 19, 2020
Calgary, AB
Age 67

Jane got to know Bui while the pair worked the night shift at Cargill. Bui worked as a meat sorter, removing stray bones from the beef. Cargill eventually recognized Bui’s dedication by gifting her a luggage bag, and her colleagues joked with her that she’d never use it because she never wanted to leave.

Bui fled the Vietnam War to come to Canada and met her husband, Nga Nguyen, on the journey. They both worked at Cargill, where almost half of the workforce contracted COVID-19 last spring.

When Bui died, Nguyen was distraught at losing his best friend.

“I am so, so sad,” he told reporters through a translator. Bui went out of her way to make people happy, including giving out candy, which earned her the nickname “Candy Momma” from one of her coworkers. Bui was so full of life, Jane thinks she would have kept working as long as she could.

“I think she would have worked another one or two more years,” she says. “She was strong.”

This story was first published in MacLean’s as part of a collaborative project with Canadian journalism schools to document the lives of people who have died from COVID-19. To learn more about the project and to read the other obituaries, click here.